As a YAGM serving at the Dar Al-Kalima School (DAK) in Bethlehem, but living in Beit Sahour, I am privileged with the opportunity of riding the school bus with the kids everyday to and from school (I have to admit that I really do find this as a great privilege since I was “denied” such privilege growing up as a child).  While the kids are pretty fun on the bus, quiet in the morning and crazy loud in the afternoon with lots of singing and sometimes even a impromptu ice-cream stop, it is the morning bus driver that I would like to post about.  To be honest, I don’t even know his name.  He picks me up every morning with one of the biggest grins on his face, we exchange polite sabah ilher’s (good morning) and kif halak’s (how are you) and then start on the morning route to pick up the rest of the kids.  Now, the buses aren’t like buses in America.  1) They aren’t yellow 🙁 and 2) they are the same buses that also run from Beit Sahour to Bethlehem everyday so it is more like DAK rents the bus every morning and afternoon, but when school is not in session the bus drivers are the same bus drivers who drive the other routes throughout town.  The typical bus pick up is at the main village intersection where one would also go to catch a taxi, go to the supermarket, or even buy fresh produce.  As I visit this intersection quite often for one reason or another, without fail every time my morning school bus driver sees me he rushes over to check to see where I am going, what I want, or if I need anything.  Most the time, I am really just buying some veggies, but it is always reassuring when I am trying to catch a taxi that he stops me, asks where I am going, and tells the taxi driver to make sure I get there.  1)He makes sure that I get a fair price on taxis (which sometimes can be hard when you don’t always know what a fair taxi price is and you look like a tourist) and 2) he just makes the whole process a lot more comfortable (as I actually get intimidated trying to get from one place or another).  I don’t always know what he is saying (he doesn’t really speak any English and well, my Arabic is also quite limited), but he continues to put a smile on my face and I know if I ever needed anything I could always run down to the intersection and if he was there he would help me with anything.

I guess I am telling this story, not just to tell you about my bus driver, but to illustrate how friendly people are here in Palestine.  The people you meet here, even briefly, even if you don’t know their names, become those who you can rely on in any situation.  People here go out of their way to say hello to you if you past them in the street or invite you over for coffee even if you met them only briefly going to the market.  I think, or I guess I know, that there are many misconceptions regarding Palestinians, but to be honest I feel safer, more welcomed, and more at peace here, when I am among Palestinians than I did back home.  Despite what might be read in the news or what is going on at the negotiation tables, my morning bus driver, the English teacher at my school, those I work with at the Lajee Center in Aida refugee camp, the taxi driver who tells me about his love for America are the true peacemakers here and I can only pray that others of the region, others of the world, can learn the true meaning of peace from them.

-Laurin-Whitney Gottbrath, YAGM, J/WB 2011-2012